Aviation Safety Letter 4-2003

Buying an Ultralight Airplane — Part 1

by Inspector Martin Buissonneau, Recreational Aviation, Flight Training Standards, Transport Canada, Quebec Region

Ultralight airplane

Part 1

Since certified airplanes are often prohibitively expensive, many pilots are turning to ultralight airplanes to make an old dream come true or to explore a new passion. Here is a short guide to help you if you plan to buy an ultralight airplane.

What are your needs? What will be the main purpose of the airplane? For example, for some people, the airplane will be mostly used for local flight, while others will want to use it for cross-country flights. Your answer will help you define your needs. There are different types of ultralight airplanes: three-axis flight controls, similar to those found on a conventional airplane, powered hang gliders and powered parachutes.

Powered parachutes (and powered paragliders) are included in the category of ultralight airplanes. To fly this type of aircraft, you need a valid medical certificate and at least an ultralight airplane pilot's permit [Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 401.03(1)], which may be restricted to powered parachutes. In addition, the airplane must be registered (CAR 202.13) just like any other ultralight airplane.

These three types of airplanes are flown in very different ways, and do not all require the same amount of physical effort. If you have always flown the same type of ultralight airplane and decide to buy a different type, it is highly recommended to get some in-flight training from an instructor who is experienced on the new type of airplane.

Here are some pointers that might help if you plan to buy your first ultralight airplane. They are not necessarily arranged in order of importance, and some of them are intended to make you think and do some research before you buy. This list is not exhaustive; other items could be added to it, and the items that have been mentioned could be expanded.

Airplane characteristics:  general airplane performance, particularly on takeoff and landing (on hard or grass surface, etc.); hourly fuel consumption (some manufacturers now provide a chart showing the percentage of power used and the hourly fuel consumption at a given altitude); payload; crosswind limitations (you should take into account your ability to control the airplane in a crosswind because it may be lower than the airplane's capacity); manoeuverability in turbulence (relative to the airplane); good visibility (depending on your height); fewest possible blind spots; on-board stowage space for your personal effects; conventional or tricycle landing gear, depending on the terrain; possibility of installing floats, and availability of skis manufactured for the airplane in question (for use in snow-covered take-off and landing areas). If the ultralight airplane will be used for cross-country flights, an enclosed cockpit, or at least some protection from the elements, given Canada's climate, will increase your comfort and make it easier to use navigational charts. Also, with an airplane that has an enclosed cockpit, an adequate heating system will make it possible to fly in cold weather for a longer period of time. Another factor that should be taken into account, depending on the environment in which the flight will take place, is propeller and engine noise.

Power plant characteristics:  engine reliability; ease of maintenance and availability of original parts; manufacturer-approved maintenance shop in the area where the airplane will be used; possibility of outfitting the airplane with a two- or four-stroke engine; dual ignition (and the safety it provides); a gear- or belt-driven reduction gear system; propeller (type of material used in construction, number and pitch of blades).

Other equipment:  two-way radio, braking system, flaps, a strobe light that is clearly visible by other aircraft, and a ballistic parachute system.

Other considerations:  You should consider storing the ultralight airplane in an enclosed hangar, protected from sunlight and bad weather. If you already have adequate shelter, check the interior dimensions to make sure that it will fit inside, before you buy the airplane. By the way, some ultralight airplanes come with folding wings. Since liability insurance is mandatory under CAR 606.02, it would be wise to read up on the terms and conditions of this kind of insurance before you buy. If you lack experience with the type of airplane you plan to buy, it is importantto get some training from an instructor who has experience with that type.

In Part II, we will discuss carrying passengers and whether to buy a new airplane or a used one. We suggest that you keep this article, as well as the second part, which will appear in the next issue of the Aviation Safety Letter, so that your checklist is complete.

Happy flying.

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